Thank you for allowing me to answer your interesting question. Poor
Mr. Merrick?s photos and physical condition are indeed alarming to the
unprepared viewer, which is understandably why you have elected not to
view them. However, Merrick did have some endearing qualities about
himself that surpassed even the able bodied people who associate with
him and which aided people in seeing past his grotesque appearance and
Joseph Carey Merrick was born August 5, 1862 in Leicester, England. At
some point before his second birthday he began to experience the
growth of inexplicable tumors on his face that eventually seemed to
spread to other parts of his body. On May 9, 1873, when Merrick was
just 11 years old, his mother, who by all accounts was described as
?crippled? (possibly from the same affliction), died of bronchial
pneumonia leaving him to be raised by his father.
In short order Merrick?s father re-married, as was the custom of the
day, but his new wife found that she simply could not tolerate the
boy?s ghastly appearance and the notoriety if brought to their lives.
Shortly afterward she gave Merrick?s father an ultimatum, ?either he
goes or I do?. Feeling he had no choice Merrick?s father relented and
his parents sent him to the Leicester Union Workhouse to live where he
would be out of their lives and out of the public eye.
In the years that followed Merrick?s physical condition worsened
immeasurably. He grew enormous tumors on his head, face and right side
of his body so such an extent that he was barely recognizable as a
human being and his right arm and hand became virtually
non-functional. Destitute, unemployable and incapable of performing
manual labor he was forced to take to the streets as a common beggar.
It was there that Merrick came to the attention of an entrepreneur
named Tom Norman. Unlike the fictional account that was widely seen in
the movie ?The Elephant Man?, Norman was quite kind to Merrick and
help him find employment with a local sideshow as a human oddity.
According to Merrick?s autobiography, he was actually very happy (as
one could be in his situation) under the guidance of Mr. Norman and he
voiced no complaint about his treatment during that time whatsoever.
Around 1883, a surgeon named Frederick Treves heard of Merrick?s
condition and requested a private meeting with him presumably to
examine his body. Merrick consented and on December 2, 1884 Treves
presented Merrick to the London Pathological Society. Following this
the two parted ways for a short time.
By now, ?freak shows? had been outlaw in England so Merrick sought to
travel to Belgium where he could once again pursue the only craft he
was able to perform, sideshows. In June 1886, while communing to work
from London?s Liverpool Station, Merrick was robbed and beaten. Police
found him with no identification on her person and only a business
card belonging to Dr. Treves in his pocket.
Merrick was transported to Whitechapel Hospital where Dr. Treves was a
faculty member and was given care for his injuries. Though the
hospital?s regulations prohibited the admission of ?incurables?
Treves, in his mercy, took it upon himself to secretly break the rules
and provided Merrick with a safe haven. As Merrick (and Treves?)
celebrity status grew, donations came in that allowed the hospital to
openly house Merick and in time a ground floor portion of the east
wing called Bedstead Square became his permanent home. Specially make
furniture was built for his convenience and comfort and every effort
was made to attend to his special needs.
In spite of his appearance Joseph Merrick became what can only be
described as a dignified English gentleman with an elegant (and often
even superior) disposition and mannerisms. He was mostly self-educated
and often child-like in his simple interests and he passed the time by
reading and building model structures. He took an interest in
architecture and enjoyed building models of churches, in particular
one of a German church that he received as a gift in the form of a
?card kit?, a popular children?s play-model of the time that came in a
box along with a picture of how the finished product was to have
looked. He took great pride in the finished structure, which must have
been exceedingly difficult for him to complete given his disabilities.
It would have taken Merrick many days or even weeks perhaps, filled
with pain and incalculable patience to build it - even from kit form.
So fantastic was this effort for a disabled man to achieve that more
than 100 years later the model is still intact and in wonderful
condition displayed under glass at the Royal London Hospital Archives
and Museum at:
St Augustine with St Philip?s Church,
London E1 2AA
Tel: 020 7377 7608
Because of the nature of his malady, Merrick was unable to sleep lying
down, to do so compromised his breathing and made resting quite
difficult. Typically he would sleep sitting upright in the specially
made chair designed for his comfort. In the movie, Merrick became
unhappy with being unable to do the things other people could so and
decided to try sleeping prose as others do even if it cost him his
life. In fact however, the reasons for Merrick?s death were probably
related merely to the manifestations of his condition and he died
peacefully (and in all probability, unintentionally) in his sleep on
April 11, 1890 at the age of 27. His body was donated to science and
his skeleton to this day is in the custody of London?s Pathological
Oddly enough, it is believed that Dr. Treves? may have misdiagnosed
Merrick?s condition as elephantiasis, hence the nickname ?Elephant
Man?. After years of studying the skeletal remains and the examining
DNA from Merrick?s indirect descendants it is theorized that Merrick
most likely suffered from Proteus Syndrome (Neurofibromatosis), a
genetic disease linked to scoliosis and cancer that produces a similar
disfigurement and one not identified until 1979, though there still
would have been very little that Treves could have done for him. The
irony however is that the nickname for which he is universally known
probably has nothing whatsoever to do with elephantiasis, a condition
that made him famous even though he never had it.
I hope you find that my answer exceeds your expectations. If you have
any questions about my research please post a clarification request
prior to rating the answer. Otherwise I welcome your rating and your
final comments and I look forward to working with you again in the
near future. Thank you for bringing your question to us.
Tutuzdad-ga ? Google Answers Researcher
JOSEPH CAREY MERRICK TRIBUTE WEBSITE
(Caution: there are depictions on this page that some may find disturbing)
SIR FREERICK TREVES
AMAZON: Articulating the Elephant Man: Joseph Merrick and His
Interpreters (Parallax: Re-visions of Culture and Society)
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